A long time ago, when I was studying Hebrews for the first or second time, I 'discovered' a way to understand the book that has stuck with me and continues to provide guidance. Now I don't know if the author was writing to answer questions posed to him or what the circumstances were, but this theological book–weighty as any in the New Testament–provides us with a healthy and robust portrait of Jesus, the Son of God, who is our salvation.
So about this way of reading Hebrews. The pattern is very easy to see and very easy to understand:
- The author introduces a subject or a topic that he feels needs to be addressed. So, for example, 1:1-4 and the revelation of Jesus as God's son and his supremacy over the angels.
- The author continues by demonstrating from the Old Testament Scriptures the point he has just introduced. So, for example, 1:5-14 where he shows us that Jesus is far superior in every way imaginable to the angelic host.
- The author provides his readers with an application of a sort at the end of each section usually marked off by the word 'therefore.' So, for example, the 'end' of chapter 1:1-14 is actually chapter 2:1-4 where we see the 'therefore.'
- This pattern repeats itself over and over again in the book of Hebrews and helps make the boo much easier to understand.
Therefore, if 1:1-14 is about Jesus, about his perfect reflection of the invisible God, and his ultimate supremacy over the angelic beings then what is the conclusion the author comes to and wants us to understand? That is, what is the practical application of 1:1-14?
Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away from it.
The practical application is that we need to pay attention to what we have heard–not to what Howard Marshall calls 'lesser messengers' whether those 'lesser messengers' are angelic beings or otherwise. Or maybe he's concerned about a 'lesser message.' I think the lesser message is easy to spot even if the lesser messengers are not–and believe me when I say that lesser messages abound in our culture. Jesus warned us that many would come claiming this or that or saying 'look there he is' when there he's not (Matthew 24-25). And interestingly enough, Jesus' message in Matthew 24-25 is just about the same as it is here in Hebrews 2:1-4: Pay attention or you will be deceived. It is possible, suggests the author, to 'drift' away and not even know it. We sit content in our boat and before long we are 100 yards from shore and we can't explain how it happened.
I think the real application here is this: if we are not diligent we will drift away from salvation. God has confirmed his message about Jesus through signs and wonders and miracles. This is how the message was confirmed to us. This is the message of the apostles, this is the message about Jesus. The point of the author of Hebrews is that there is one message about Jesus and if we are not diligent and careful to pay close attention to what 'God has spoken to us in these last days by his Son' we will most assuredly drift away from our salvation.
So what? I think this means that we need to constantly be evaluating what we hear. Too many Christians are content to take in everything they hear unfiltered. And what has happened is that the church ends up being led off in directions never intended and individual christians end up being led off in directions they aren't even aware are leading them further and further away from Jesus. So we must pay attention to what we heard lest we drift away. We must pay attention lest our salvation become tainted or corrupt or at least impotent.
And it seems to me that this Gospel message is found in these first 14 verses of the letter to the Hebrews–God spoke through Jesus, Jesus is the appointed heir of all things, Jesus is the Creator; Jesus is God's radiance and sustainer of the world; Jesus is the atonement for our sins; Jesus is the rightful king of the Majesty of heaven, the Kingdom of God, who will reign in righteousness.
And no one, not even an angel from heaven, can make those claims. Only Jesus.
There's probably more to say about this than I am getting at right now and perhaps I will say more later. For introductory purposes, I hope this provides a good start.